Have you ever thought about seeing a psychologist? Not sure what to expect? What makes a good psychologist?
Preparing to see a psychologist can be like a first date. You never really know what to expect until you rock up, and the lead up to the appointment can be anxiety-inducing to say the least. In preparation you might try to calm your nerves by finding information about your future therapist through their website or by doing a Google search. Perhaps your therapist has been recommended to you, so you’ve got a picture of what the person is like. In the dating game this is akin to some clever Facebook stalking, or getting some goss off a mutual friend.
Regardless of how much you do (or don’t) know about your future date/therapist, both situations can be downright scary.
It’s scary because both situations require you to share personal information about yourself, which you never know how people are going to take or have the capacity to hold. Will you be judged? Will you get along? What does the potential for the future hold? Nobody likes feeling vulnerable or exposed, and we humans have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings, so it’s not surprising that people tend to shy away from seeing therapists.
Nobody ever really wants to see a psychologist. I know this, because I am one.
When I meet new people socially people either avoid me, get nervous because they think I can read their innermost thoughts, or are curious about what I know about them.
Having seen a few psychologists myself, I can tell you firsthand that the experiences have varied from the not-so-helpful to profoundly life-changing. One psychologist I enlisted to help me through a particularly soul-destroying relationship kind of just repeated everything I said, and sessions went nowhere. I had already repeated my story to myself in my head a million times and hearing it outside of me, without any clever leads to something insightful, was a little frustrating to say the least. If this was a date scenario, having your potential lover repeat what you’ve said back to you, without any engagement in your story, could be a cause for no second date.
On the flip side, when I was battling issues of self-worth and insecurity, a kind and compassionate therapist led me gently (and sometimes not so gently) to the cause of my issues, and I felt for the first time, the feeling of being seen, heard, held and understood. This safe space opened me up to trusting my confidant, and together we examined my fears and found strategies to manage them.
Trusting your psychologist, or feeling like your therapist is there for you, no matter what, is the foundation of therapy and is otherwise known as the “therapeutic alliance”.
It’s the feeling that they ‘get you’, like a great first date that makes you swoon and call your friends after. This alliance is the best predictor of success in therapy, NOT what TYPE of therapy (e.g Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, ACT Therapy) they use, and this has been demonstrated in research studies (1-3). Similarly with dating, the connection is key. It’s not where you go, or what you do, it’s the feeling that they are genuinely interested in you, and show it.
Like dating, you can get a sense of whether someone ‘gets you’ within the first or second meeting, If you’re not feeling the connection, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the person again. Similarly, if you’re not feeling it with your therapist, change who you see. For something as personal as therapy, it’s important to feel comfortable.
So although you may be talking about uncomfortable topics, you need to feel comfortable with your psychologist. You want to be able to talk freely in sessions and not feel judged or worse, pitied. Seeing a good psychologist means that you feel relieved after you’ve been there, even if you feel a little raw after exposing your vulnerabilities. Psychologists might not have all the answers for you, but you should have a sense that they’re trying to understand you, and that they’ve got your back, and they should imbue a feeling of hope in you.
At The indigo project, I’ve hired therapists based on how ‘real’ they are, and their ability to connect with others, not their University grades or list of accomplishments. Having a therapist that is down-to-earth and ‘real’, is having someone that is authentic, compassionate and non-judgmental and who you know at the end of the day, gives a shit about you. This is what real therapy is, and where real healing can occur. Likewise with dating, finding someone who really cares, can change your world.